April 24, 2012

WCU to consolidate Asheville-area programs at new Biltmore Park site

Western Carolina University will consolidate graduate and undergraduate academic programs currently offered at locations across Buncombe County to a new off-campus instructional site in Biltmore Park Town Square effective this fall.

Western Carolina has offered a variety of programs in Asheville since 1937, and currently provides 21 academic programs at various sites in Buncombe County, including at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College’s Enka campus.

Consolidation of offerings into one location will mean expanded access to university-level programming to better serve the educational needs of Western North Carolinians in the Buncombe-Henderson corridor, while also improving operational efficiencies, said WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher.

“Space and access constraints have limited our capacity to meet the educational needs of the people of the greater Asheville area,” Belcher said. “The Biltmore Park site provides space for the growth of programs such as nurse anesthesia and the opportunity to offer classes during the day, at night and on weekends.”

Western Carolina enrolls approximately 600 students in classes in the Asheville area, through academic offerings that include graduate programs from the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Education and Allied Professions, and Health and Human Sciences.

The transition also will enable UNC Asheville to provide the people of Western North Carolina with additional access to academic programs not currently available from the two westernmost campuses of the University of North Carolina, UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Western Carolina University and for UNC Asheville to expand the graduate school opportunities for the citizens of our region,” Ponder said. “Western Carolina’s relocation of its programs to Biltmore Park allows us to accelerate our collaborations with other UNC campuses to offer high-quality graduate education in Asheville.”

 UNC Asheville has a strong history of partnering with universities within the UNC system, and has ongoing partnerships with UNC-Chapel Hill, Appalachian State University and North Carolina State University, she said. UNC Asheville is part of the UNC Chapel Hill Medical School pilot program, in cooperation with Mission Health System, and is host to the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s doctorate program. UNC Asheville also offers a master of liberal arts degree, with a new certificate program in climate change and society.

Tom Ross, president of the UNC system, has approved a 10-year lease agreement between WCU and Biltmore Farms LLC that will enable Western Carolina to begin offering classes in approximately 25,000 square feet of space in Biltmore Park Town Square.

Jack Cecil, president of Biltmore Farms LLC, said he is excited about the latest addition to the mixed-use community located at Exit 37 of Interstate 26 between Asheville and Hendersonville.

“We are very pleased that Western Carolina University is opening its new consolidated instructional site in Biltmore Park Town Square,” Cecil said. “This WCU location will accelerate economic growth along the I-26 corridor by bringing a regional research university that provides advanced and technical degrees to the southern Buncombe and northern Henderson area. The educational research component that WCU will add to this region has been noted by many economic developers as a key driver of job growth in many other successful communities around the state and nation.”

The move was endorsed Tuesday, Jan. 31, by the executive committee of WCU’s Board of Trustees. A memorandum of understanding signed Thursday, Feb. 9, by Ross, Belcher and Ponder specifies there will be no duplication of programs offered in the Asheville area by the two institutions.

WCU administrators have been exploring ways to meet growing demand for higher education and professional development in Asheville and Hendersonville, and in the residential and business corridor between the cities. That need became increasingly apparent after numerous meetings across WNC to introduce Belcher, who became WCU chancellor July 1, to the region.

“We heard time and again from people all over the mountains, from Murphy to Morganton, that they want greater access to our classes. We heard it especially loud and clear from folk in Hendersonville and along the I-26 corridor, which is among the fastest growing areas of North Carolina,” Belcher said. “By consolidating our academic offerings in one central location, we will be much better able to meet the professional and graduate program needs of a key area of our region,” he said.

Historically, students enrolled in WCU classes offered in the Asheville area have come from Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Madison, McDowell, Transylvania and Polk counties.